TREK RAIL 9.9 XTR
The high price of new and improved
Trek, with their last Rail model we tested two years ago, set an incredibly high bar and, owing to its ease of ride and product quality that few could match, it became one of our favorite bikes of the season. With that memory in mind, we wondered what to expect of their new Rail 9.9. We have been testing it for a month, including in Molveno, which is located high up in the Dolomites of northern Italy. This area has about every type of trail known to mankind, so we feel now we have a good idea about what’s changed and what’s possible with this new model.
The Rail 9.9 has undergone some changes compared to the previous version. The top tube has gotten longer, the head angle slightly more open and the drive system has improved with a brand-new, bigger 750Wh battery. The new Rail also has five Bluetooth connections, allowing a detailed readout of all the various data points that could be useful to the rider.
This is a top-of-the-range bike, and it doesn’t disappoint the first time you sit on it and set it up. It has poise and feels ready to slay or just drift around on. The frame is very well-finished, the gears gleam with their Shimano XTR shine, and we’re sure that the Rail can’t get any better than this—or at least we struggle to see how.
The old Trek Rail was the most surprising bike of 2020 for us. The geometry was very dialed. It did everything just right and well. It felt like Trek had a magical potion no one else had. The new Rail is of equal measure. It feels incredibly stable and is longer than the old Rail. The 29er wheels means it does not follow the mullet trend. It also makes it easier to source tires for. The 29er front and rear gives the 160mm suspension a bottomless feel. The head angle feels better and gives more stability on descents, although it is almost the same, just 0.4 degrees more open. It’s the extra wheelbase length and top tube length that, in addition to this change, make the bike feel more relaxed.
The Rail 9.9 XTR is a top-of-the-range bike. It has Shimano XTR gears and brakes. These components are top quality, light and super precise to use. The brakes were super reliable and are one of the best systems on the market, and fade is almost nonexistent on normal trails. When we hit the slopes of Molveno with long its descents, we discovered that the security from having a good braking system is at the end, which is more relaxing to ride with.
The Bontrager carbon wheels increase the steering precision and, in the case of the Trek, aid the bike’s low- rolling resistance. The wheels come mounted with SRAM’s AirWiz pressure senders, which give data on the correct tire pressure to use. We did try some new Goodyear Newton tires on it as well, which are more aggressive than the stock tires. We can definitely recommend this as the only upgrade one might do, although you will increase weight slightly and decrease rolling resistance.
The suspension is top of the range from Rockshox and includes the ShockWiz sensors, which allow full-time pressure monitoring to ensure that your bike’s suspension is always in its ideal pressure range.
Bosch’s new smart battery and control system are a definite improvement over the last one. It has all the familiar features, including the ideal e-MTB mode. However, the new system has a new controller, which can be used without the display, plus an app, which allows the rider to modify the bike’s electrical settings, including creating a digital lock when you approach the bike and only allows the registered phone user to unlock the motor. The power modes can be altered as well now. The app gives the ability to tune the top power modes to your support level or motor response preference. Ideal for detuning or tuning up the motor to exactly match your riding fitness level.
The new smart remote has LED lights now to show battery charge level and also the color changes according to the power mode. The remote also now has a new layout with easier navigation around the new Kiox 300 display, which shows all the data needed, including cadence measurement and power averages. If you mount a phone on the handlebar, you can also have turn-by-turn navigation active. Honestly, though, this new remote is more aimed at urban users than off-road users, and we would prefer a more robust remote, which apparently (it’s currently a secret) will be arriving soon.
“It is not a sports car in tight corners, but at the same time it’s not exactly slow; it’s like a very high-performance SUV with ‘sports’ suspension.”
The 750Wh battery is the other headline part that gives exceptionally good range to the bike. We only managed on one ride to completely flatten it. On that ride we did 1800 meters of ascent and four hours in the saddle. We were exhausted. So, essentially batteries have reached parity with rider autonomy now. If you weigh less than 200 pounds, expect even more range than what we experienced. The motor, of course, is as we expected from the steady, very strongly supportive, smooth, quiet Bosch powerhouse.
WHO IT’S FOR
The Rail 9.9 is for anyone who feels they want everything that can be on a bike right now and the best of it. Two things to consider, of course: For an asking price of over $12,000, it better be the best at everything, and the “anyone” we speak of is a very limited audience. This version is great for high-speed bike parks, enduro trails, all-mountain trails and just cruising around on. In short, an expensive, real all-rounder.
On the trail the Rail 9.9 feels very smooth. The carbon wheels house some super-slippery bearings, as this bike rolls and rolls seemingly without resistance. It’s an odd sensation and could be a combination of the geometry as well. The old Rail had the same sensation, but the new bike is even better. On smooth trails the bike is intentional and just covers lots of ground, sticking to corners with incredible ease and never feeling like it’s nervous.
The suspension is also very supple, and with the ShockWiz, it’s very easy to set up the sag. The 160mm-travel ZEB shock is really our baseline for enjoyment. We noted that once set up, we did not have to change our rear suspension settings, but up front the stock recommendation was a little soft, so we increased the pressure a bit to match our aggressive riding style. The Rail offers a stable, no-nonsense ride. It is not a sports car in tight corners, but at the same time it’s not exactly slow; it’s like a very high-performance SUV with “sports” suspension.
The extra 2 pounds of battery weight is so well-distributed we did not notice the increased weight; the extended geometry hides it well.
Trek has increased the capability of the Rail 9.9 XTR to a point where we don’t know if it can be improved again. It does everything so very well. It has every setting possibility one can ask for and is completely digital in design. It’s like using a CD player compared to a cassette tape in the early ’80s. You can hear and feel the quality improvements and know that there will be a long time before anything comes along to unseat this ride.
It’s not cheap. It feels expensive, though, as a bike, so it’s not over-inflated and slightly cheaper than the top-of-the-line Specialized but with no significant lesser performance to it. In short, the Trek Rail 9.9 XTR now kicks out the old Rail and takes its place in the top three of our favorite bikes.
TREK RAIL 9.9 XTR
Frame: OCLV Mountain Carbon main frame
Fork: RockShox ZEB Ultimate, AirWiz 160mm
Rear shock: RockShox Super Deluxe, AirWiz, 230×57.5mm
Motor: Bosch, Cx Gen 4, 250W, 85 N/m
Battery: Bosch Smart System 750Wh
Display: Kiox 300 Smart
Charge time: 4–5 hours
Top speed: 20-mph limit (15.5 mph in E.U.)
Range: Up to 65 miles (in Eco)
Rear derailleur: Shimano XTR M9100 12-speed
Chain: Shimano Dura-Ace/XTR M9100
Cassette: Shimano XTR 10-51T
Brakes: Shimano XTR 200 mm
Saddle: Bontrager Arvada, Austenite rails
Dropper post: Bontrager Line Elite Dropper
Rims: Bontrager Line Pro 30, OCLV Mountain Carbon, tubeless-ready, 6-bolt, 29” front and rear
Tires: Bontrager SE5 Team Issue, 29.5×2.5, tubeless-ready
Weight: 50 pounds
Color choice: Grey/black, red/black, red/yellow
Sizes: S, M, L, XL